Competency Based Interview

Competency based interviews are a structured style of interview used to assess a candidate's level of competence in key areas.

Competency-based interview instructions and guidance free booklets

Available to download free are two documents to help you prepare for a competency-based interview. You can print these and get a friend, colleague or family member to go through the questions with you as a faux interview. They are also worth reading through yourself. These have been written for us by business psychologists using a standard competency framework for assessment during the interview.

Download Free Competency-Based Questions (PDF)

The instructions document details what to do for the exercise. The guidance document points out everything that an interviewer will be looking for you in your responses. This document is useful for you to self-evaluate your performance.

The most common style of interview is competency-based and is used by employers to measure a candidate's level of ability in competences that are crucial to the role being recruited for.

How do competency-based interviews work?

Also known as situational or behavioral interviews, competency-based interviews are becoming more and more popular amongst employers. Competency-based interviews have a fairly rigid structure to them and all candidates will be asked several questions from a list, which will measure for a specific competency. Measuring for different competencies will create a different competency framework. The competencies measured will be determined by their relevance to the role that's being recruited for. Almost all of the questions will offer candidates opportunities to describe previous work-related experiences, which can demonstrate the competencies the company is looking for. The list of questions will be the same for all candidates to improve reliability. Questions are designed to help you tease out your achievements from previous workplaces, or internships, or even from moments in college and school. The interviews can last for an hour and are more often than not are done face-to-face with an interviewer or a panel, who will sometimes be staff in senior positions in the company. A competency-based interview will be used to complement other exercises at an assessment center or psychometric tests you've completed at previous stages in the application process.

What is a competency-based interview trying to measure?

Between four and six key competencies make up the competency framework, which is based off a job design. The job design analyzes a particular role or position in the company in order to determine which competencies are necessary to ensure good performance. Some examples are that in an investment banking role, analytical thinking is likely to be a key competency, whereas in human resources, interpersonal sensitivity may be considered to be more of a key competency. This approach, where a company analyzes the roles it is trying to recruit for within the company, will result in very bespoke competency frameworks. This is a good thing as the competency framework will be very tailored to the job. You could look at it this way; a job for non-management roles is less likely to look for leadership qualities, and as such the competency framework will not see leadership competency as one of the 4 to 6 key competencies to measure and that the company is looking for in new employees. As with all interviews and professional and social occasions your composure, manners, attitude and dress will all influence the interviewer's perception of you, so take note of this. Competency-based interviews with specific frameworks and a list of standardized questions are all features designed to reduce bias, however, the interviewers are only human, and as you may end up being colleagues and working closely with each other on the same team when you are hired, first impressions count for a lot and give off a good or a bad image of yourself.

What do I need to know before a competency based interview?

Research the role that you've applied for if you haven't already. Work out what is essential. Despite the competency frameworks being bespoke to the role for many organizations, you can still try to predict the key competencies the company will be trying to measure. Some companies will explicitly state the competency framework for the roles that they are recruiting for. Competency frameworks for more common positions can vary significantly in different organizations, despite this being for the same role companies will view the competencies required differently. You can read into the requirements or essential skills listed in the job advertisement to obtain some insight into the competency framework the company have designed. Skills and experience are examples of key competencies.

A strategy for competency-based interviews

There are two main strategies for tackling competency-based interviews. These are handily summarized into two easy-to-remember acronyms; CAR and STAR. The STAR acronym has one extra step, which provides the interviewers with more information. Either method is effective in a competency-based interview.

CAR - Context, Action and Result.
STAR - Situation, Task, Action, Result

Context: Here, it is important to explain the context surrounding the situation. What was your goal during the task? What issues arose? Try to set the scene with all the necessary details without over elaborating.

Action: What did you do to specifically achieve your goal? What actions did you take? Clearly state what these actions were, the manner in which you did them, and your reasons behind choosing that option and not others. What, to you, made that action the best to deal with the situation, and not others that you had also considered, or that other people had proposed? This will help the interviewer to understand the context of the situation better, perhaps there were some restrictions which weren't previously explained. Now is the opportunity to do so. This 'Action' section of the CAR strategy is for you to explain to provide the evidence for a particular competency.

Result: What were the outcomes from your actions? Did you achieve your goal? Feel free to share positive outcomes. Negative outcomes can be shared too as this can demonstrate your awareness of the situation, your judgment or your integrity and ethics. Be as thorough as you can when describing the result of your actions, because this is an opportunity for you to highlight how effective your decisions were.

As you can see, the CAR method is an easy to remember acronym, providing a useful structure to competency based responses. The STAR method provides slightly more information to interviewers through the addition of the "task" stage; however either method can be used successfully in an interview setting. The STAR method is outlined below:

Situation: As above, this section can be described in the same way as the 'Context' section of CAR. Clarify to the interviewer what problem arose.

Task: What was required of you in this situation, what were your objectives and what did you expect the outcome to be? State these to the interviewer making them as clear as possible.

Action: Your action needs to be clearly explained to the interviewer. Point out again what you were hoping to achieve and why you thought this course of action was chosen as the best.

Result: Once again, state the outcome of your actions. It is advised to emphasize the positive outcomes. Demonstrate what was successful about your actions. Highlight as many positive outcomes as you can.

Advice for competency-based interviews

The following tips and advice can be useful when preparing for, or performing well in, a competency based interview:

1. Research the role: Gauging an idea of what the competency framework looks like, requires research into the role itself. Similarly, finding out about the employing organisation, their culture, their mission and their overall strategy may also provide insights into the kind of skills and experiences they are looking for in employees. Understanding of the role, although perhaps not a competency in the framework, is still likely to be assessed during any interview, and candidates are well advised to find out as much as possible.

2. Think about evidence: Prior to the interview, candidates must think of examples which highlight evidence for particular competencies. Think of a time when you had to utilise leadership skills, or had to utilise strong numerical ability, or a time when interpersonal skills were the key to success etc. These historical situations are the lifeblood of a competency based response, and interviewers will frown upon candidates which take 10 minutes during the interview just to think of a situation which they expressed a competency. Have a list of previous experiences at hand ready to provide the interviewer upon request.

3. Interview experience: Interview experience is a highly valuable commodity, and gaining as much as you can will only serve you well. Students often have career services which may include mock interviews. Candidates are advised to gain as much interview experience as possible, as this will help familiarise you with interview format, layout and structure, making the experience feel more natural in future. The more job savvy candidates may even consider applying to jobs which they have limited or no interest in, simply to gain interview experience.

4. Stay clam: Although a moderate amount of anxiety or nervousness is a natural reaction to interviews, excess anxiety can only serve to hamper your interview performance. Therefore, candidates are advised to avoid getting too nervous before hand. Showing up to the interview with time to spare, getting adequate sleep the night before and engaging in in-depth preparation/research beforehand can serve to limit feelings of anxiety before an interview.

5. Ask for feedback: Most interviewers will provide constructive feedback after making decisions based on the interview. Even if candidates are successful at the interview stage, it is advised to get feedback on interview performance. This feedback can be used to improve future performance on competency based interviews, and can provide invaluable information into avoiding previous interview mistakes. Although candidates may feel bitter about not getting selected after an interview, feedback can only serve to help you in the long run, and therefore gain the most from your interview experience.

AssessmentDay has material to help you prepare

Above, in one of the PDFs is a free sample competency framework, with many examples of competency-based questions. The other documents is our competency-based interview guide which contains model answers to these example competency-based questions, and helpful advice on how to answer competency-based questions in relation to the example competency framework. This useful resource provides you with thoughtful insights into how competency frameworks are structured, the kinds of questions that assess these competencies and how best to appraoach these questions when forming responses.

One last point

Interviews, are well known to bring stress and anxiosu feelings in people, especially those with less experience of the interview process. The thought of being infront of a panel of interviewers and giving off your best image can be stressful at the best of times, but inadequate preparation can only serve to make the experience more stressful. Candidates are well advised to take the matter of preparation seriously, as this will increase your chances of success, and snuff out the fear of failure. At any rate, interview experience can only serve you well, and help prepare you for the next interview that you will face. Following the provided advice will help you to achieve your best during the interview, and gain as much as possible afterwards. We wish you the best of luck with your upcoming competency based interview!